New Rules of Customer Engagement: Key Findings from Global Research

Customer engagement strategies for the next normal

Time to read: 11 minutes

Vala Afshar
Chief Digital Evangelist, Salesforce

When you’re looking for a new show or movie to watch, you no longer need to consult a TV guide or a friend for recommendations — just log on to Hulu and you’ll find a personalized lineup of shows and movies that you’re likely to enjoy. That’s how easy it is to find content tailored to your interests. It’s experiences like this that set the new standard for personalized customer engagement.

As other digital-first experiences have raised the bar, studies show customers expect brands to measure up — especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixty-two percent of customers say experiences with one industry influence their expectations of others, and 88% expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to the pandemic. Today’s companies need to look to leading brands to understand how standards of engagement are changing.

Customer engagement today is about creating seamless experiences that build trust. And trust is a true business imperative; 95% of customers say their trust in a company makes them more likely to remain loyal to that brand.

That’s why every year we publish a new edition of the “State of the Connected Customer” report — to empower teams to work together with a shared view of all customer engagement, so they can build trust and loyalty with their audiences. Read on for key findings from our global research this year.

What are customer engagement strategies, and how have they changed?

Customer engagement is about making a commitment to deliver connected experiences instead of fleeting transactions. This means optimizing your team structure, operations, and technology to create a positive feedback loop with customers. To do this, you need to stay informed about customers’ evolving needs, maintain and build your brand integrity, and make ethical use of data to help customers in relevant ways.

Integrated technology allows companies to engage with their customers in completely new ways. Today’s personalized customer engagement relies upon an integrated tech stack. For example, a connected CRM gives your company a single, 360-degree view of every customer. With this view, your teams can use data to tailor content and experiences to your customers’ unique needs, helping your brand keep pace with rising customer expectations.

It’s important to remember that customers’ expectations aren’t industry-specific. Every time a brand raises the bar in its industry, it raises the bar for every other industry as well.

“Customers have so much power now,” said Neeracha Taychakhoonavudh, EVP of Industries at Salesforce. “In the consumer world of social platforms, every single person has a voice. The rewards of harnessing your most ardent fans are amazing, but customers will also be very vocal when they are displeased. So knowing your customers and understanding their needs has become critical to success, no matter what industry you’re in.”

Our research found that 80% of customers say the experiences provided by a company are as important to them as its products and services. In other words, the quality of your customer experience has a direct impact on your potential for business success.

“Most companies must realize that they are no longer competing against the guy down the street or the brand that sells similar products,” said Dan Gingiss, author and customer experience expert. “Instead, they’re competing with every other experience a customer has. This presents an opportunity for forward-thinking brands to create positive experiences that customers want to talk about to others. It also suggests that CX [customer experience] professionals should be monitoring the experience at a wide variety of companies and industries for inspiration.”

What are customer expectations for engagement?

  • Personalized engagement is a top priority. Sixty-six percent of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations. And it’s no longer just a nice-to-have; 52% of customers expect offers to always be personalized, up from 49% in 2019. That might mean serving up a customized marketing offer or proactively reaching out to prevent a potential issue. It’s even more important today as customers rely on many tools, products, and services to help them work from home, connect with friends, and manage their lives in uncertain times.
  • Customers also expect tailored messages on each channel. In fact, 76% of customers prefer different channels depending on the context of the message. Multichannel engagement is critical, as 74% of customers now say they've used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction, up from 71% in 2019. Meeting these expectations requires an omni-channel workflow for seamless engagement across all mediums.

How is new technology changing customer engagement?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution brought a surge of powerful technologies — like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) — into our lives. It seems clear that the adoption of connected devices and smart technologies, both at home and at work, is changing customers’ expectations about how they want to engage with brands. A majority of customers seem pretty excited about how this new technology can create better experiences. Fifty-nine percent of customers agree that AI will revolutionize how they interact with businesses.

For many people, AI and the IoT are now part of everyday life through virtual voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, which are built into many of the world’s most popular devices. Today, 46% of customers can think of an example of AI they use daily, up from 40% in 2019. Machine learning and predictive analytics are now used to create more connected experiences in nearly every industry.

“Convenience and ease are the pillars for a great engagement, and AI can supercharge them all,” said David Clarke, Global Chief Experience Officer at PwC. “If all of a customer’s information just pops up and a smart, adapted script is there for an associate, how much better do you think that employee will serve that customer by spending less time hunting for data and more time building relationships?”

How can you increase effective customer engagement?

Given these developments, how can companies start to improve their customer engagement? The research shows that customer success lies in delivering experiences that are personalized and consistently connected in real time. All of these elements are vital to effective customer engagement strategies.

Personalize customer experiences.

Personalization — already recognized by marketers as having a big impact across the customer journey — is a given. Customers want a tailored experience as they progress from first hearing that a company exists all the way through to deciding to buy from it. They also want these tailored experiences coupled with concierge-like engagement from customer service.

The bar is rising fast in terms of what constitutes a personalized experience. Now, 66% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, almost in the manner of a great co-worker who brings your favorite coffee when they know you’ve been having a tough week. However, companies continue to fall short of these expectations, as 66% of customers feel they’re treated as a number, not a person.

Consistently connect customer experiences.

Over three-quarters of customers expect consistency when interacting across multiple departments. For this to happen, customers’ historical data needs to be accessible; anyone at a company should be able to quickly look up customer information and easily use it to engage them accordingly, without peppering them with questions.

However, many companies are finding it a challenge to live up to these expectations. Nearly 54% of customers say they feel like they’re interacting with siloed departments rather than a unified business. For companies, ensuring a high level of connectivity across channels and devices is a tall order. Sixty-four percent of customers have used multiple devices to start and complete single transactions, and the average enterprise uses 900 different applications, only 29% of which are connected.

Create real-time customer experiences.

Eighty-three percent of customers now expect immediate engagement when they contact a company, up from 78% in 2019. The need for instant gratification is affecting the way customers make purchases, too. Seventy percent of customers say convenience is more important than branding.

This mindset also extends to customer service: 65% of customers would rather help themselves through self-service for simple issues. In short, people are growing impatient with the idea of waiting, and companies are challenged to accelerate engagement and create a two-way dialogue with customers in real time.

How does trust affect customer engagement?

Trust helps reinforce customer engagement. People won’t care about your brand if they feel your interactions with them aren’t based on openness, transparency, and fairness. Today, 82% of customers say trust in companies matters more than it did a year ago, up from 73% in the previous year.

The topic of trust is especially relevant for companies today because personalized engagement depends on customer data. To provide the connected experiences customers expect, companies need to know a lot about their customers’ needs, expectations, and habits.

In our research, we found that only a small minority of customers are uncomfortable with relevant personal information being used to enhance their experiences. However, 63% still don’t believe companies are transparent about how their data is being used, signaling that many companies aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

Customer data powers great experiences, but it has to be used responsibly in order for those experiences to be perceived as great, rather than as an invasion of privacy. Nearly 48% of customers have stopped buying from companies because of privacy concerns.

How do values engage customers?

As customers continue to pay more attention to corporate values, their opinions and experiences are changing accordingly. Leading brands take heed of this by defining their values within online experiences. In the case of Patagonia, for example, that means engaging customers with digital content focused on environmental activism. Customers are listening; 71% say they pay more attention to companies' values than they did a year ago.

Customers also take into account what a company stands for when deciding whether to buy from that business or not. Sixty-one percent of customers have stopped buying from a company whose values didn't align with theirs.

How can you measure customer engagement?

Determining your customers’ level of engagement isn’t always easy, and opens up lots of questions for discussion. Is a customer who visited your website 10 times last week more engaged than one who spent 15 minutes talking to a salesperson over the phone? Is a new customer who made five recent purchases more engaged than a long-time customer who only buys once a year? Do your answers to these questions change if one customer completes an online survey or recommends your brand to others?

When it comes to measuring customer engagement and the best practices of successful companies, success looks different for everyone depending on their business goals. Here are some key metrics different departments should monitor.

Customer engagement for marketing

While the “right message, right channel, right time” mantra still applies, it’s a complicated practice to master. The average customer crisscrosses many different channels on different devices in different contexts.

As a result, engaging in real time is now marketers’ top priority — and their top challenge. Many now track mobile and social analytics, in addition to general web traffic and digital engagement rates, to better pinpoint how to optimize across media. Forty-eight percent of marketers now also track lifetime customer value, the ultimate measure of whether or not they’re effectively engaging customers and providing the experiences they expect.

“Measuring customer lifetime value is a great start, because it will likely convince companies to invest more in existing customers,” said Dan Gingiss. “That’s as opposed to continuing the infinite loop that is spending on acquisition without regard to the ‘leaky bucket’ on the other end.”

Customer engagement for sales

For salespeople, hitting quotas is still critical, but the way they do it is changing. Instead of focusing on single transactions and net-new customers, the majority of today’s sales teams recognize that there’s a lot of value in growing existing customer relationships. That’s why 86% of reps say it's more important to build long-term customer relationships.

Customer engagement for customer service

Customer satisfaction remains the ultimate goal and the most-tracked customer service KPI, but advances in data analytics have brought more granular measures of engagement to light.

For example, 51% of service teams now track first contact resolution (FCR) rates, and 44% track customer effort scores. Thirty-six percent even track case deflection, a measure of how many customer issues they’re able to prevent in the first place.

These trends continue to push companies to rethink how they engage with their customers. Companies that respect their customers’ data and use it to improve experiences stand a better chance of ultimately increasing customer trust and building loyalty. And by infusing personalized, consistently connected, real-time communication throughout the customer experience, businesses can find new and compelling ways to engage customers based on insights from data.

Learn how Salesforce Customer 360, the world’s #1 CRM, helps you take customer engagement to the next level to build trust and loyalty.


The Transformation Playbook


Harvard Study: Engaging the C-Suite with Customer Experience


More Resources






Get timely updates and fresh ideas delivered to your inbox.